"Lebnan ya Ot3it Sama" I love my country, as much as I travel and experience the world's beauty and wonders, I crave coming back to my home town. Why? With all its chaos, drama, ups and downs, there are things you can't but miss... I will take you down the reasons why I love Lebanon so much... of course the nightlife, the tourist areas and the amazing weather are but a few of the reasons you should try out Lebanon's must see/try places... But the food choices are endless.
- Let's start with the couple of words to know while visiting Lebanon, ITFADAL, BONJOURAK, AHLA WOU SAHLA, YALLA, TAMEM, KIFNA, WALAW. Hospitality is of course in their blood. Whenever someone is carrying a bag of fruits, eating chips, or whether you compliment them on that beautiful silver ring on their finger, they will always gesture these words. M'adam - What is mine, is surely yours.
- Nothing starts off a Lebanese morning better than the soothing melodies of the living Lebanese Legend, Fayrouz. Start of your day with Bhibbak Ya Lebnan or Sa'alouni el Nass, slip it into your car, and put on full blast and enjoy this tradition that has remained a favourite for 50 years, people listening to the same tunes day after day.
- Head down towards the old souk of Sour (Tyre), early on a calm Sunday morning and enjoy the echoes of the Mosques and Churches. The day starts with foul mdamas, balila, kebbe and radishes, and all the Lahme Nayyeh mezzes you can think off with the delicious Arak. People crave for it in the morning! I would suggest going to... for a feast for your eyes and tummy... as they say in Lebanon, el rejel bala kersh ma byeswa iresh... then I am worth million!
- If you're into more simpler foods, the smell of thyme Mankoushe, Keshek, cheese Mankoushe, Kechek or Lahme Biajine will make the fullest of us hungry. Try the cocktails, which means, have a mankoushi with half cheese, half thyme... or even minced meat with cheese. If you like pickles, you should not miss the pickles prepared in Lebanon. Very tasty. Try our local version of the famous cucumber pickles (cornichons). Check out a tourist opinion on Lebanese food.
- While having a mankoushi, don't miss having a Laban drink Ayran with it or a Bonjus haram that Pyramid-shaped synthetic lemon drink. They can be found everywhere... If you want to ask on the streets and they will help you... if they didn't get what you're saying, pronounce it 'Bonjiiis. Yummy!
- For those who prefer to start their day with something sweet, the Knefe is not to be missed. Whether it's Kachta or Cheese, it is very sweet and comes in a special designed Kaake with heavy sweet syrup ('Ater). Try the ones at Abdel Rahman Al Hallab in Tripoli or L'Abeille D'Or in Beirut.
- On a low budget, the sizzling sound of Falafel with an aroma to entice your fancy is on every corner. This traditional sandwich is the best and cheapest thing to eat as you stroll across the city. Falafel Sahioun is one of the few that does it without garlic, a family reproducing the same clean recipe since decades.
- Lebanese food, famous mezzes that include birds dipped in debs (Asafir mi'liye bi debs el remmen), traditional Hommos, Tabbouleh, Fatayer, Sambousik... and a variety of grills that include meat, chicken, kafta... Here's where the whole feast of fun and friends starts. Dig in, dip a piece of Lebanese Pita bread in any of the dishes... yummy. The choice is endless... Try one of my favorite authentic places, Al Halabi in Antelias or something more twisted like Leila or Enab.
- Should it be the north or the south. you can have breakfast at Abdel Rahman el Hallab, in Qasr el Helou at Tripoli, and maybe afternoon desert at the El Baba in Saida. The fresh and tasty baklava complemented by a cup of Arabic Coffee. The golden sweetness bejeweled with pistachio and nuts (Kol w Shkor) or one of my favorites is the Znoud EL Sett - Kachta and thin bread leaves.
- It's a must to try one of the many cafes that have mushroomed all the way from North to South. Laughing, discussions, coffee, all cafes are the meeting points of Lebanese waiting to discuss politics. All conversations are based on that, no other country in the world are involved that much with politics: All Lebanese know it all, and every one’s opinion is the best. And the new trend is talk and talk for hours smoking the Nargileh.
- Speaking of the Nargileh... this has become a pass time activity enjoyed by many. It's not just a the simple hubby bubbly, the nargileh has become an art. A mix of flavors and a challenge in design. Tastes are endless covering all fruits (Mango, Grapes, Apples, Melon, Orange, Citrus) and one vegetable: Mint. As for the shapes, they vary from a normal long glass vase to any other shapes that Philippe Starck didn't even think of.
- You can't be in Lebanon and not try Souk el Tayeb, Lebanon’s first farmers market. Supporting small producers of high quality, Souk el Tayeb is a producers market only, gathering farmers and producers from all around Lebanon, and supporting local production, seasonal, natural, traditional and better if organic. Souk EL Tayyeb is open every Saturday morning from 9am to 2pm in the Trablos street of Souk Beirut. There you can taste and eat the authentic wonders of Lebanon. Real famous and original dishes and recipes from Mrabba to Kabbis, Manakich, Mouneh and more, all sold by the villagers themselves. Some items can be found online on many websites.
- Fruit Cocktails, it's a must! The famous Cocktail Fwekeh Che'af with avocado and strawberry sauce found at Makhlouf, Chez Toni, Bliss House or Jabbour to name a few of the delicious cocktails of natural fruits: that you will miss wherever you travel. Fruits themselves in Lebanon are special. Cheap and very tasty compared to European countries.
- Did you know that the Lebanese Mezze table has more than 75 different dishes? Should I go into details? I think we all know them by heart.
- The vast variety of restaurants available in Lebanon is wide. I think that Lebanon has the higher rate per capital for restaurants. Every week couple of new places open, and bizarrely, they are all working. Every cuisine is represented.
- To end the journey and to be a pure Lebanese, you cannot but mention eating the pumpkin seeds (Bezer Zghir), Foul Akhdar or Lawz and discuss others personal problems, that's when you want to be civilized or else you can eat those while driving and throw what's left outside your car window.
As much as we criticize our country, as much as we know that we cannot live away from it, and that is in our blood. And now that Easter is approaching, enjoy the many possibilities of our famous Maamoul, hand made by Lebanese wives.
Any local habits I forgot about? Please share them with us.